14 Surprising Things About Living on a Sailboat that Nobody Talks About

Are you curious what its really like living on a boat? I’ll tell you the positives and negatives here. There’s lots you might not realize about boat life.

Kristin Hanes on a sailboat

The idea of boat living captivates many, conjuring images of idyllic anchorages, serene solitude amidst nature, or sipping sundowners as the sky paints itself in hues of orange and pink. It’s a lifestyle often wrapped in romance. When I share that I’ve been calling a boat my home since 2016, the response is typically a mix of “You’re living the dream!” or “What luck!”

And yes, I do feel fortunate, but it’s not always smooth sailing. Embracing the sea as your address comes with its share of highs and lows, delights and dilemmas. Despite the challenges, I wouldn’t swap this sailing life for anything — well, not just yet. But it’s worth noting that the reality of living on a boat can sometimes stray from the picturesque scenes often imagined.

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1. There is a Lot of Maintenance 

woman standing next to a sailboat in a boatyard in mexico
Photo Credit: The Wayward Home.

As I write this article, I am in Cabrales Boatyard at the northern tip of the Sea of Cortez. It’s our fourth time idling boat work here, along with a large community of cruisers working on their sailboats. Cruisers come here to keep maintenance costs down. If you hire someone to do the work on your boat, it will require a pretty penny. Many liveaboards seek out boatyards where they can do their own work; some are in “boat jail” for months, if not years. 

Don’t be fooled if you buy a newer boat, either. We’ve heard of brand-new boats having issues, too. Yes, boat life has a lower cost of living, but be prepared to reinvest some of those costs into maintenance. The to-do list with boat work and maintenance often seems unlimited.

2. You’ll Have to Be Your Own Mechanic

working on a boat
Photo Credit: The Wayward Home

Life on a sailboat, especially if you want to go cruising, means there is a lot to learn. Often, you’ll be anchored in distant places where you can’t easily call a mechanic for help. The most self-sufficient sailors learn everything there is to know about their boat, including engine maintenance and repair, operating and fixing the fridge, knowledge of solar and electrical systems, and how to repair the watermaker, among other systems.

If you plan to cross oceans and visit remote islands, you must know how to fix your boat on the fly with the tools you carry onboard. Being a good problem solver is a must when living on a boat. 

3. There Can Be Life or Death Situations

woman waving from the cockpit while living on a boat in Mexico
Photo Credit: The Wayward Home.

When people ask me the difference between van life and sailboat living, one of the huge ones I can think of is this: Van life doesn’t have death-defying moments. But when you’re living on a boat, anything can go wrong. Sudden, fierce weather conditions might hit you, and you must stay onboard. It’s tough to find a sailor who’s fallen overboard in the middle of the ocean, especially at night.

Along with bad weather, there are also whale strikes, one of which recently sunk a sailboat on its way to the South Pacific. Or, someone might fall ill or get injured in the middle of nowhere. It’s difficult to head to the hospital while cruising remote destinations.

4. Space is Limited

A man standing inside a sailboat interior while living boat life
Photo Credit: The Wayward Home.

Let’s face it: boats don’t have much space. If you plan on living on a boat, you must eliminate tons of stuff. Our boat has cupboards for storage, but most are filled with tools and food. Lack of space means we have to be efficient regarding our stuff. For example, each item has more than one purpose in the kitchen. Instead of buying a pair of onion goggles, I wear swimming goggles. We’re always getting rid of stuff, moving stuff around, and try to keep only what we need.

With the lack of space, boats can get cluttered fast, and nothing feels good about hanging out in a mess.

5. It Can Be Difficult to Find a Legal Slip

woman standing onboard a liveaboard sailboat in a marina
Photo Credit: The Wayward Home

If you’re not planning on cruising and, instead, want to stay near a big city, you’ll have to deal with finding a liveaboard slip. When we were in the San Francisco Bay area, it was almost impossible to find a liveaboard slip without getting on a waitlist for many years. Since we weren’t technically allowed to live on our boat, we did a combination of anchoring out in the Bay, housesitting, and sleeping in our vehicle. None of this was very convenient and I would have much rather lived on our sailboat full time. 

If you’re considering the sailboat life, you’ll want to get on as many live-aboard waitlists as possible.

6. Some Marinas are Disgusting

a sailboat in a marina
Photo Credit: The Wayward Home

When you are looking for a liveaboard slip, you should go to the marina first and inspect it. Since I started living on a boat, I’ve seen some truly nasty marinas. Boats in total disrepair. Boats with garbage on their decks or cluttered with rows of unruly plants. Marinas with crusty characters ambling about, shouting both to and at each other. I’ve heard marital disputes, crying, cussing, and all sorts of weird stuff.

It’s important to choose your marina carefully. Ensure you like the people you see and have similar goals. If you’re at a marina preparing your sailboat for cruising, it’s fun to be around similar folks.

7. Say Goodbye to Long, Hot Showers

woman standing on the deck of a sailboat while living aboard
Photo Credit: The Wayward Home

Water on a small boat is limited, so you won’t be able to take those long, hot showers you would enjoy at a house. If you’re cruising, you’ll need a watermaker to take fresh water showers, or you can boil saltwater. We do have a watermaker but choose the salt water method instead so we don’t have to run our noisy watermaker as often.

You also won’t want to take long, hot showers because it could create a mold issue inside your boat. We take “navy showers,” where we turn the water off when lathering up. We add hot water to our solar shower, which only has a capacity of 2.6 gallons. So that’s the longest shower we’ll get!

8. There is an Incredible Sense of Community

people who live on their boat full time hanging out at a remote island
Photo Credit: The Wayward Home

Living on a boat means you’ll instantly have a rapport with other sailors. We can relate to many things since we’ve been through many of the same experiences. Plus, being a cruising sailor requires a special type of personality. These people love nature, are hard-working, are self-reliant and into an alternative lifestyle.

We’ve met many life-long friends in anchorages and at the boatyard, where we all endure the same suffering. The boating community is seriously one of my very favorite things about boat life!

9. You’ll be Exposed to the Elements

man and woman hugging while living on a boat
Photo Credit: The Wayward Home

There’s something joyous about living on a boat when you’re safely anchored and the wind is howling outside. I love the sound of rain pattering against the cabinhouse. However, the proximity to nature also exposes you to extreme heat and humidity.

The cold is much easier to deal with than the heat when on a liveaboard vessel. We have a kerosene heater and a “school bus heater,” which blasts engine heat throughout our boat when we’re motoring. We were delighted to have these heating sources when living aboard in colder climates, like San Francisco in winter. 

10. You’ll Become Very Self-Sufficient

Woman on the bow of her sailboat
Photo Credit: The Wayward Home

One amazing thing about living on a boat, especially when cruising, is you’ll feel self-sufficient. My grandma calls me a “Pioneer Woman,” as we live without many modern-day comforts. Thanks to Starlink, we have high-speed internet access, but we live without so much, including running hot water, a washer and dryer, dishwater, and other things most people take for granted. 

On the flip side, we have learned to rely on ourselves. We make our water using our watermaker, catch fish, bake sourdough bread, and learn about which plants are edible. The marine environment becomes our free food source, and when we buy “real” groceries, we can live off them for weeks if necessary. We love that we can move around with the power of the wind and run our entire boat off solar panels and lithium batteries. Our sailboat is its own self-sustaining tiny house.

11. Living on a Boat Can be Uncomfortable 

sailboat in the bay
Photo Credit: The Wayward Home

Sometimes when living on a boat, I dream of ways I can get off the boat. This is when anchorages are rough and rolly, when sea conditions are terrible, or when high wind prevents us from leaving a particular anchorage.

We’ve often woken up in the middle of the night to our sailboat bucking around like a wild horse, and we have to pull up anchor and motor somewhere else at 2 am. One time, an anchorage was so uncomfortable that my partner Tom threw up off the side of the boat even when we were anchored! When the motion is bad, it feels awful to be seasick, and you’ll want to be anywhere else but on a boat.

12. You’re at the Mercy of the Weather

sailboat in rough weather
Photo Credit: Deposit Photos.

High winds kept us in the Turtle Bay anchorage for five days when we were cruising south along the Baja Peninsula in the winter of 2020-2021. I felt like I was going crazy at that time, as there was no way to get off the boat, go on walks, or go paddleboarding. Everything was cold, and the bad weather was like an anchor, keeping us in the same spot.

Whether you go or stay when living on a sailboat depends on the wind and sea state. You might have to wait out storms for days. You might suffer from boredom and restlessness, and you’ll long for the day when you’re blessed with fair winds and following seas.

Speaking of weather, you’ll also have to be a weather forecaster. You can attend training or take classes on the art of weather prediction. We recommend the weather service Predict Wind, which we use in conjunction with an Iridium Go satellite device. 

13. You’ll Enjoy Fewer Possessions

woman steering a boat in the sea of cortez
Photo Credit: The Wayward Home.

It can be challenging at first to downsize and get used to less space, but after a while, you’ll get used to the feeling of minimalism. Everything on your boat will have a purpose, and you’ll think twice before buying new things.

Freedom from stuff is one of the greatest parts of boat life, and the limited space is not a big deal over time. After many years of living on our CT-41 sailboat, we are still thinking of ways to get rid of even more stuff and slim down our lives. Empty cabinets are a positive thing in our book! 

14. The Adventure is Endless

Kristin Hanes on a sailboat
Photo Credit: The Wayward Home.

With so much hard work and hardship, you might be wondering why people even choose to live on a boat. The good news is that living on a boat can be as rewarding as it is challenging. We love the sailing experience, dancing with the wind on the beam, relaxing on the stern with a book and a sun shirt.

There have been incredible days with whales spouting alongside us or getting swarmed with a pod of dolphins. I love that boat ownership brings endless adventures and destinations. When you think about it, most people won’t get to explore those remote anchorages, hidden islands, or cross oceans.

You’ll have stories and memories for life and always treasure your experience with the liveaboard lifestyle. 

The Most Dangerous Places Around The World To Travel

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos

Generally, the world is a safe place to explore. There are countless fascinating countries to visit, exciting attractions to see, unique cultures to experience, and impressive histories to learn about. 

However, as exciting as most countries are, some are extremely dangerous. Whether it be because of natural disasters, high crime rates, conflict, or political instability, there are countries you’ll want to avoid. 

The 10 Rudest Things You Can Do On a Plane

Image Credits: Deposit Photos

Getting ready for your next vacation? British etiquette consultant Jo Bryant and travel experts at SkyParkSecure shared some of the biggest plane travel turn-offs with The Wayward Home. 

Jo believes these 10 etiquette blunders would leave a seasoned globetrotter “cringing with embarrassment and scratching their head.” No one does courteousness quite as well as the Brits do. So take notes.

What Is The “Holy Grail” Of Jobs For Digital Nomads?

Image Credits: Deposit Photos

There’s never been a better time to be a digital nomad! Digital nomad numbers continue to rise across the world, as do the opportunities to become one. If you’ve always dreamt of traveling the world as you work, now could be your chance.

However, first, you need to find the perfect job, and Reddit’s digital nomads are here to help. On Reddit, people recently discussed the “Holy Grail” of jobs for digital nomads. Today, we’ll look at 11 of the most popular suggestions. 

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